Rebels claim Ndele in Central African Republic
The military claimed to have fought off the attack by the rebel Convention of Patriots for Justice and Peace (CPJP), but said that fighting was still going on in the afternoon.
"This morning (...) at 4:00 am, the armoured unit of the CPJP took the town of Ndele. The town is under our control, the security of the population and of aid workers is assured," a communique from the CPJP said.
The rebels said three of their men had been killed, four were wounded, and that about a dozen soldiers were killed. "We're holding the prefect (district administrator) and the commander of the zone," they added, saying they had taken three vehicles and a large number of weapons.
A resident of Ndele, reached by AFP, said on condition of anonymity that "the inhabitants of Ndele have fled the town, which is in the hands of the rebels. The inhabitants are still hiding out in the bush."
The CPJP is one of the rebel groups in the Central African Republic that have not signed a peace accord with the Bangui government of President Francois Bozize, which has made peace with most rebel forces.
A source close to the general staff of the Centrafrican army (FACA) confirmed that "the town of Ndele was attacked early on Thursday morning."
"The attackers tried to take the military base in Ndele, but they were driven back by the FACA detachment. The fighting is still going on," the source said at 2:30 pm (1330 GMT).
The CPJP is led by Charles Massi, who was a prime minister under Ange-Felix Patasse, the president toppled in a bloodless coup by Bozize in 2003.
Massi was arrested last May just over the border in neighbouring Chad and accused of attempting to destabilise the CAR but released by Chadian authorities a month later.
Massi in May 2008 joined the Union of Democratic Forces for the Rally (UFDR) led by Abdoulaye Myskine, who has since signed bilateral and then global peace accords with Bangui. Massi then left the the UFDR for the CPJP.
According to Thursday's statement, the CPJP "has been waiting since the month of August for serious negotiations with the government.
"This long silence on the part of the government has driven the CPJP to go on to the offensive and take the town of Ndele. And we count on progressing in military terms if the government does not immediately engage in negotiations."
Ndele has already been attacked twice, first at the end of 2008 and then in June 2009, but the army drove back the rebels both times.
In the second attack 18 people were killed, 15 of them rebels, according to Bangui. The CPJP said that 26 people died, including 24 government soldiers.
The fighting caused large numbers of people to flee, many of them towards southern Chad, about 100 kilometres (60 miles) distant.
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Received by NewsEdge Insight: 11/26/2009 10:42:13
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